A new national study says two things are not in doubt: Americans are using library Internet connections more, and one-third of libraries say they do not have adequate connections to the Web.

The study, conducted by the University of Washington Informational School, found that library computers are becoming increasingly important to people who are job hunting, doing class work or even looking for medical advice or appointments:

  • "40 percent of library users (about 30 million people) received help with career needs. Among these users, 75 percent reported they searched for a job online, and half of these users filled out an online application or submitted a resume via the Internet.
  • "37 percent focused on health issues. The vast majority of these users (82 percent) logged on to learn about a disease, illness or medical condition. One-third of these users sought out doctors or health-care providers and of these, about half followed up by making appointments for care.

  • "42 percent received help with educational needs. Among these users, 37 percent (an estimated 12 million students) used their local library computer to do homework for a class.
  • "Library computers linked patrons to their government, communities and civic organizations. Sixty percent of users (43.3 million people) used a library's computer resources to connect with others."

This issue is something I have been thinking about lately as my kids receive homework that requires them to search online and print on a printer. I wonder how many students simply do not have the luxury of an online connection at home or a computer on which to work. How do those kids do their homework if they can't get online at home? Libraries are getting caught in budget crunches, closing earlier and staying open fewer days just when they might be becoming more important.

A couple of weeks ago, a homeless man happened by our church. He was telling me that he goes to one particular library in our community because it does not place a time limit on how long you can stay online. He said he sends e-mails to his father, and recently took a tutorial class online.